By MATT BLOIS
Voting on a county-wide sales tax increase starts Tuesday morning, and if voters don’t pass it the county may have to find another way to fund the construction of new school buildings.
County Mayor Rogers Anderson said the County Commission hasn’t considered how it would fund the construction of the new buildings without the sales tax. Raising property taxes is one option, but he didn’t know how much the county would have to raise them.
“We haven’t crunched the numbers on that,” he said.
If the referendum passes, it would increase the county’s sales tax from 2.25 percent to 2.75 percent. This increase would raise an estimated $69 million for county schools.
Williamson County Schools expects that the number of students in the district will grow by 20,000 over the next decade. With this in mind, it asked the county for $500 million to pay for new buildings and upgrade existing ones. The sales tax would help pay for that, but if doesn’t pass, the County Commission could choose to raise property taxes instead.
In Williamson County, property owners pay between $2.15 and $3.10 for every $100 worth of property they own. The tax rate varies slightly based on the location in the county. In 2017, $1.21 of that money went towards the operating budgets for Williamson County’s school districts.
The operating budget pays for salaries, supplies or other expenses needed to run the school, but it doesn’t pay for the construction of new buildings. If the county decides to raise property taxes it will have to carve out a portion of that money specifically for new construction.
As of yesterday morning, the taxable value of all the property in Williamson County was almost $12.3 billion. To raise the same amount of money as the sales tax increase, the county would have to increase property tax rate across the county by about 19 cents and dedicate all of that money towards buying or upgrading school buildings.
Currently, someone that owns a house worth $437,900—the county’s median home value—in an unincorporated part of Williamson County pays $2,354 per year in property tax. If the property tax increases by about 19 cents, the owner of that same home would pay about $208 more.
Anderson said so far the County Commission hasn’t explored raising property taxes. They have been fully focused on trying to fund the schools through the sales tax.
This example is just one of the options the County Commission has. If the commission does decide to raise taxes, he said the general public wouldn’t get to vote on it.
According to Anderson, raising the sales tax won’t always be enough to fund the county’s schools because so many students are coming to the area.
“This is building for the first 10 years,” he said. “What’s it going to be like in the next 10 to 15 years.”
As far as the options already explored, the county previously proposed a way to generate funds in 2016.
They created a fee that developers would need to pay when constructing a new home. The fee was supposed to help the county pay for the new schools that would be necessary to build when people moved into those homes.
More than $8 million was collected from those fees, but it is unusable because a group of developers sued the county due to their belief that the fee is illegal. The county cannot use the money because if it loses the lawsuit it would have to pay that money back.